Three law students named to the 2011-12 class of North Carolina Schweitzer Fellows

Group photo of Schweitzer Fellows

Three Wake Forest University School of Law students, Alexandra Ford (’12), Michael Grippaldi (’11), and Craig Principe (’12), have been selected for the 2011-2012 North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellows program. They join 22 other North Carolina Fellows and approximately 250 U.S. Fellows selected across the country this year.

These Schweitzer Fellows partner with community-based organizations to identify an unmet health care need, design a year-long service project with a demonstrable impact on that need, and seek opportunities to make their work sustainable beyond their one-year contribution to the organization and the community. Fellows contribute at least two hundred hours of service for each project and the project can be developed by students working individually or in pairs.

The mission of the Schweitzer Fellows program is to “develop ‘leaders in service’: individuals who are dedicated and skilled in addressing the health needs of underserved communities in North Carolina and whose example influences and inspires others.”

Since 1994, more than 300 North Carolina Fellows have been following in Dr. Albert Schweitzer’s footsteps, putting their passion and idealism in action by providing health care support to underserved communities.

Ford and Principe are partnering on a project aimed at addressing health care disparities among children who are placed in Stokes County Department of Social Services (DSS) custody.  Through their sponsoring organizations, Guardian ad Litem (GAL) of Stokes County, they will serve as GALs for nine children from Stokes County.

Those nine children suffer from severe mental and physical disabilities and due to their medical conditions they have been placed in upper-level facilities and placements outside of Stokes County in seven different surrounding counties. Stokes does not have such placements or facilities and this geographical divide makes it difficult for the GAL Office in Stokes County to properly monitor the children’s medical treatments and to make accurate and insightful recommendations to the court about their placements and permanent care plans.

Through their project, Ford and Principe will visit with the children on a regular basis, talk with their doctors, families, and teachers about their conditions and treatments, and report to district court judges on a periodic basis to provide recommendations to the court and to advocate on behalf of the children’s needs and desires. They will seek to facilitate the effectiveness of the children’s treatments in the hopes of giving them a better chance of living the best quality of life possible, thus addressing both mental and physical wellness.

According to Principe, their project grew out of their past experiences serving as GALs and their desire to help children with mental and physical disabilities. Principe explained that “Alexandra and I both worked as GALs in Stokes County for the past year. Our experiences exposed us to the world of children suffering from parental neglect, abuse, and dependency.” He currently serves as the ABA Law Student Division’s Lt. Governor for Mental Health Initiatives for the ABA’s Fourth Circuit. Ford previously worked an inner city hospital and was President of the Habitat for Humanity Chapter at Northeastern University.

Principe further explained that “Some children who are placed outside the home have a more difficult time than others. Due to severe physical or emotional disabilities, they are placed outside of Stokes County, far away from family members or relatives, in placements or facilities that hopefully can meet their needs. Nevertheless, they are the most vulnerable and least likely to be adopted or to return home due to their disabilities.”

Ford added that “Our project came out of our desire to help these children and others like them in the future receive better care and advocacy through Stokes County GAL. GALs can help ensure that the mental and physical health needs of these children are properly being addressed.”

Grippaldi is one of Wake Forest University School of Law’s first joint-degree, JD/MA in Bioethics students. He will be completing both degrees during his fellowship year and his project grew out of his passion for both health care law and bioethics. His project addresses an important and unmet need in the Winston-Salem community for advance care planning. Such planning enables individuals to formulate and document their treatment preferences using health care powers of attorney, living wills, organ donor designations, and portable physician orders.

Some populations in the community are less likely to utilize such processes due to misunderstandings and apprehension. Grippaldi explained that his project, “involves overcoming barriers to educate marginalized and underrepresented populations in Winston-Salem.”

Grippaldi anticipates that “By shadowing Center Staff and hosting community outreach events at local clinics, medical centers, and churches, I can dispel myths and increase awareness of available options; I can start a dialogue about end-of-life care. These individuals may then continue the conversation with their families and health care professionals.”

His project seeks to “inspire trust between patients and their medical providers, giving them the confidence to have tough talks about their health care and long-term medical preferences. Hopefully, my project will give peace of mind not only to individuals, but to their families too.”

Ford, Grippaldi, and Principe are among twenty-five graduate students from North Carolina’s professional schools that have been selected as 2011-2012 North Carolina Albert Schweitzer Fellows.  Three students from Wake Forest University’s School of Medicine were also selected as Fellows. Schweitzer Fellows devote more than 3,400 hours of service to local communities lacking in access to adequate health services.